By Matt Vensel
10:30 AM EDT, March 17, 2011
Baltimore is blessed with a bunch of talented sports bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. I often link up to these local writers in my morning Coffee Companion posts, but instead of just exchanging anti-social links with them, I have decided to be slightly less anti-social by exchanging emails with them in a somewhat regular feature called Blogger on Blogger.
Today's blogger is Daniel Moroz of Camden Crazies, one of the many outstanding Orioles blogs in the Baltimore blogosphere. Opening Day is less than three weeks away, so now is a great time to chat with Moroz, a highly-respected blogger among his peers who is a numbers-cruncher and the creative force behind the Matt Wieters Facts website. I'd like to thank Daniel for participating.
MV: Matt Wieters was recently labeled one of the 50 most disappointing prospects of all time by Baseball Prospectus. Where do you weigh in on the Wieters debate?
DM: The issue is that disappointment is relative to expectations. BP had Wieters projected to be a monster even coming into his rookie season, even though I think most people (including the crew that's there now) thought it was overboard (I was admittedly still too high on him, but I definitely thought there would be an adjustment period). If you expected Wieters to have already won an MVP award, then I can see him being a huge disappointment. On the other hand, he is a solid major league catcher at 24 years old (when you're a plus defensively at the position, the bar to clear offensively to be valuable is quite low) and still has the tools to turn into -- if not an MVP candidate -- at least an occasional All-Star type player.
It might not be that exciting, but I'm not terribly disappointed with Wieters' production so far.
MV: I believe Brian Roberts is the team's most irreplaceable offensive player because he's the catalyst and because the Orioles seem to lack a viable replacement. Would losing him wreck the Orioles offense?
DM: Brian Roberts might be the team's most irreplaceable offensive player in a practical sense, since the drop-off from him to Cesar Izturis (who I assume would take his spot) is so big (approximately 30 runs). In a vacuum, he's a good -- not great -- hitter (which is good for a second-baseman) but not one of the team's best (maybe fourth or fifth). If Roberts is replaced by someone who can hit at all though -- say, Robert Andino? -- then the drop-off isn't really bigger than J.J. Hardy to Izturis or Mark Reynolds to Josh Bell or Nick Markakis to Felix Pie or Wieters to Craig Tatum.
The "catalyst" and "lead-off hitter" stuff doesn't really matter. You know what you need at the top of the line-up? Good hitters. You replace Roberts with Robinson Cano, and even though Cano isn't a "lead-off hitter," the O's would likely score more runs just because he's a better hitter. If the only options to lead off are Wieters (slow!) and Izturis (fast!), you go with Wieters every time.
MV: What can we reasonably expect from Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee this season?
DM: I've got Vlad projected at .291 (batting average)/.336 (on-base percentage)/.467 (slugging percentage) and Lee at .266/.346/.432 for 2011. Neither seems unreasonable, and by virtue of having some defensive value, Lee would be the more productive player overall (if still below average). When you play a position on the "easier" end of the defensive spectrum, you really need to be able to hit to be valuable. Either line would be great for a shortstop, but at first-base and DH they're merely OK.
MV: Exactly how much of an upgrade is J.J. Hardy over Cesar Izturis, and what do the Orioles lose defensively with Hardy at shortstop?
DM: The defensive metrics think the drop-off from Izzy to Hardy defensively is relatively small, and with the age disparity I think there's a decent chance that Hardy will play a better shortstop next year than Izturis would have. Offensively, there's a massive gap. Giving 525 [plate appearances] to both, the difference between Hardy hitting .261/.320/.410 and Izzy hitting .249/.297/.302 is around 20 runs, if not more. If the defense is a wash, then you're picking up approximately two wins from the upgrade.
MV: Are you higher on Felix Pie or Nolan Reimold, and would you endorse the Orioles moving someone to open up a spot in the outfield?
DM: I'm higher on Pie, due mostly to his glove. He doesn't need to outhit Reimold to be the more valuable player. I'm still a Reimold fan though -- I love his plate discipline. I wanted to see those two guys get a full season in the majors this year, which is part of the reason I didn't like the Vlad signing. If the O's could find a team to take Vlad's contract off their hands for nothing, I'd like to see them go for it. Otherwise, it depends in the offers; if they could get a solid prospect or two for Luke Scott, then they need to make that move. I wouldn't just give him away, though.
MV: What is Jeremy Guthrie capable of with more support from both the Orioles offense and his fellow starting pitchers?
DM: Guthrie is capable of the same things he was capable of last year, more or less. The offense and the other pitchers don't do anything when he's on the mound. At this point, Guthrie has outperformed his (main) peripherals long enough that some of his ability to keep his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) low should probably be looked at as skill -- only some of it though, which is why I'm still not comfortable projecting an ERA below four for him. That makes him a somewhat above-average starter, but not the kind of guy that should be leading a quality rotation.
MV: Speaking of the rotation, how do you see the young rotation shaking out his year, and when will we see Zach Britton?
DM: Brian Matusz is probably the team's best pitcher -- and he might be the team's best player (which says a fair bit about the O's lack of top talent). Hopefully Brad Bergesen can do a little more of what he had going at the end of last season than at the beginning, and settle in as a decent No. 4-type starter. Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman still need to work on some things, and I'd be surprised if they combined for an ERA much under 4.75. Regardless of who starts the year in the rotation, both should get plenty of innings (very rarely will a team be able to get through a season with only five starters).
Britton I'd like to see get plenty of time in Triple-A, with may be only a month or two in the majors (assuming he's healthy and pitching reasonably well). There's no reason to rush him, given that he has all of 153 innings above A-ball. The O's seem to be in "win-now" mode for some reason though, so I could see him brought up earlier if a couple other guys struggle.
MV: According to Baseball America, the Orioles only have two of the top 100 prospects in baseball. Is that a concern at this point in time, and what can the Orioles do to restock the pipeline?
DM: It's a major concern. The team needs to have a farm system that can supply talent to the majors on a fairly consistent basis, and it's really not good news when the teams ahead of them in the majors are also ahead of them in the minors. Investing in the international market seems like a no-brainer to me. More scouting, and a slightly less conservative approach in the draft could be useful as well.
MV: If there was a WAR statistic for managers, would Buck Showalter's be in the triple digits (I ask this half-jokingly, of course)?
DM: Theoretically, I guess (though it would be very hard to measure). The thing is, a replacement level manager -- replacement level being freely available talent, so it's like the best guys who don't have jobs at the moment -- is still probably pretty good. Since most managers don't tend to do many monumentally stupid things -- plus they tend to act in similar enough manners overall -- there isn't much upside there.
If you told me that Buck would add one or two wins to the team over, say, Juan Samuel, next year, I wouldn't argue. I would like to know where those wins are coming from, though. In-game decisions? Playing time distribution? Line-up construction? Buck doesn't magically add to the win column -- those W's have to come from somewhere. Also, the team wasn't nearly as good as they looked at the end of last season, just as they weren't as bad as they looked at the beginning. But that's generally how it goes, right?
MV: What's your season outlook for the Orioles? Do they break .500?
DM: I have the team around 76 wins right now, which gives them a fair chance to break .500. If 76 wins is the expectation, then anything from 66 to 86 or so would be pretty reasonable outcomes.
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